Archaeologists Find Britain’s Only 5th Century Roman Mosaic

Related Articles

Related Articles

Archaeologists conducting excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire, England, have discovered the first known Roman mosaic that dates from the 5th century AD.

Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest Roman villa complexes in Britain, built in several phases from the 2nd century, to the 5th century AD. The villa was first discovered in 1864, and was acquired by the National Trust in 1924, where the site has been part of a long-term conservation programme.

A study using radiocarbon dating has revealed that a mosaic within Room 28 of the villa was created during the middle of the 5th century, a period where a majority of Roman towns and villas had been abandoned and left to ruin.

 

Charcoal and bone sealed within a foundation trench in the north range of Chedworth Villa have provided radiocarbon dates that show that the wall could not have been built until after AD 424 and that a mosaic must be later than this date.

It is believed that the dated wall of the Villa was constructed to subdivide an existing room and a mosaic laid in the newly-created room. As with many floors where the central area saw more wear and tear, the best preserved parts of the mosaic are on the margins of the room.

The work that began in 2012 was part of a six-year programme of archaeological digs and research which is shedding new light on Chedworth Roman Villa and the history of Romans in South West Britain. Research and dating on the mosaic however have only recently been completed.

Martin Papworth, National Trust archaeologist explains, “The 5th century is a time which marks the beginning of the sub-Roman period, often called the ‘Dark Ages’, a time from which few documents survive, and archaeological evidence is scarce.

“After almost 400 years, Britain had been lost by Rome, units of the regular army and members of the civil service were either being withdrawn or no longer paid in cash and their wages in the form of coinage ceased to be brought into Britain by the central government. This saw production decline, and the craft and service industries became unsustainable.

“It has generally been believed that most of the population turned to subsistence farming to sustain themselves and, after the break with Rome, Britannia’s administrative system broke down into a series of local fiefdoms.

“What is so exciting about the dating of this mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline. The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.

“This 5th-century date was so different from what is generally thought that after discussions with the National Trust’s expert advisors, a second radiocarbon date was needed alongside pottery analysis before I could be sure.”

Image Credit : National Trust

The 5th century mosaic in Room 28 is an intricate design. Its outer border is a series of circles in ‘guilloche’ (a braided band) alternately filled with flowers and knots. It fits precisely within the room space bounded by the newly dated wall.

However, this mosaic is of poorer quality than the well-made mosaics dating to the late 4th century in the Villa, and contains several mistakes in its design, possibly evidence that the mosaicists had become less skilled by this time.

Martin continues: “It is interesting to speculate why Chedworth Villa’s owners were still living in this style well into the 5th century. It seems that in the West Country, the Romanised way of life was sustained for a while. Many large, richly decorated Roman villas have been found in the countryside around Cirencester, which is around 8 miles from Chedworth.

“By the end of the 4th century, Cirencester was the second largest Romano-British town after London and had become the capital of a separate province ‘Britannia Prima’. The wealth of these many lavish villas surrounding this provincial capital surpassed that of any group found across the rest of Britain. Perhaps this territory occupied a more protected area, sheltered from the hostile raids taking place from the north and along the western and eastern coasts.

“We have also made occasional finds of 5th-6th century pottery from Africa and Palestine amongst the ruins at Chedworth which are also strong indicators of sub-Roman high-status occupation at this time. Scraps of similar pottery which have been found in other local villas suggest that Chedworth was not a unique survivor during the troubled times of the 5th century.”

Dr Stephen Cosh has written about all of Britain’s known Roman mosaics. He says:

“I am still reeling from the shock of this dating. There are very late Roman mosaics in the area for which archaeology can only ever say they must be later than a particular date, without being able to say how much later.

“But none has ever been suspected to be this late. It will be important to research further sites in the region to see whether we can demonstrate a similar refurbishment at other villas which continued to be occupied in the 5th century. But there is no question that this find at Chedworth is of enormous significance – it’s tremendously exciting.”

The 5th century mosaic, along with some other mosaics in the exposed North Range at Chedworth, has been re-buried following the excavation to protect it from the weather. However, photographs and a 3D fly-through video of the mosaic can be seen online.

The National Trust is hoping to source funding to produce an augmented reality experience to showcase this and other mosaics uncovered on the North Range.

National Trust

Header Image – Chedworth Roman Villa – Image Credit : Markus Milligan

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Study Sheds New Light on the Behaviour of the Giant Carnivorous Dinosaur Spinosaurus

New research from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Maryland, has reignited the debate around the behaviour of the giant dinosaur Spinosaurus.

New Skull of Tube-Crested Dinosaur Reveals Evolution of Bizarre Crest

The first new skull of a rare species of the dinosaur Parasaurolophus (recognized by the large hollow tube that grows on its head) discovered in 97 years.

Women Influenced Coevolution of Dogs and Humans

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly - gender.

Dinosaur Embryo Helps Crack Baby Tyrannosaur Mystery

They are among the largest predators ever to walk the Earth, but experts have discovered that some baby tyrannosaurs were only the size of a Border Collie dog when they took their first steps.

First People to Enter the Americas Likely Did so With Their Dogs

The first people to settle in the Americas likely brought their own canine companions with them, according to new research which sheds more light on the origin of dogs.

Climate Change in Antiquity: Mass Emigration Due to Water Scarcity

The absence of monsoon rains at the source of the Nile was the cause of migrations and the demise of entire settlements in the late Roman province of Egypt.

Archaeologists Discover Bas-Relief of Golden Eagle at Aztec Templo Mayor

A team of archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) have announced the discovery of a bas-relief depicting an American golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos canadensis).

Lost Alaskan Fort of the Tlingit Discovered

Researchers from Cornell University and the National Park Service have discovered the remnants of a wooden fort in Alaska – the Tlingit people’s last physical bulwark against Russian colonisation forces in 1804.

Popular stories

Exploring the Stonehenge Landscape

The Stonehenge Landscape contains over 400 ancient sites, that includes burial mounds known as barrows, Woodhenge, the Durrington Walls, the Stonehenge Cursus, the Avenue, and surrounds the monument of Stonehenge which is managed by English Heritage.

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

The Roman Conquest of Wales

The conquest of Wales began in either AD 47 or 48, following the landing of Roman forces in Britannia sent by Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

Vallum Antonini – The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall (Vallum Antonini) was a defensive wall built by the Romans in present-day Scotland, that ran for 39 miles between the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt).